Saturday, January 19, 2013

Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story

Watching a documentary about Gidget. The real Gidget, the girl surfer nicknamed Gidget, short for "girl midget", whose father, Frederick Kohner, a Czech Jewish immigrant, wrote the Gidget novel. She was fifteen, she told the surfers she was eighteen but they thought she looked about twelve. They treated her like a little sister.

The one surprising thing is that Gidget and the surfers are all old now, but they look okay, not prematurely wrinkled. There's no mention of skin cancer.

A documentary filmmaker Paul Wendkos was given the task of directing the first Gidget movie. He was a bit baffled that they gave him the job. This was his first feature he made under contract with the studio. He objected to filming the surfing scene in front of a rear screen projection, but what could he do? For the long shots, they used a man in a bikini as a stand-in for Sandra Dee. There weren't enough girl surfers to stand in, although I suppose they could have used the real Gidget.

The surfers all went to see the movie.

"This is the beginning of the end," said Kahuna.

The movie came out and soon everyone had a surfboard. The beaches got crowded. The surfers got better.


The story of a young girl trying to join the surfers reminds me of the advice they gave science fiction writers. Make the stories about an outsider to whom everything will have to be explained.

They actually had Sally Field out risking her life surfing when they did the TV show. She was out there freezing in the dead of winter (as dead as winter gets in Southern California) surrounded the whole time she was in the ocean by surfers ready to rescue her if anything went wrong. Rear screen projection doesn't sound so bad after all.

I've never seen a Gidget movie and I don't think I knew there was a TV show. Surfing seems dangerous. Sharks are drawn to the same sort of coastline that attracts surfers. Just being in the sun is potentially dangerous. And I don't see much of an upside.

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